Champagne on tap, lazy days in the sun and glamorous nights sharing fine food, watching West End shows, or having a flutter in the casino. Life on board a cruise ship can seem like an unattainably perfect dream.
Is it really so idyllic? Surely crime or violence cannot be far away? If so, how are passengers protected?
The facts – and statistics – show that cruise is the safest of all forms of travel.
Of the six murders recorded on board ships since 1990, all but one was domestic by nature – including a case of infanticide by an unhinged mother. The only exception was a killing that occurred on a casino ship on an overnight trip from port – strictly speaking not really a cruise ship.
Rape and sexual assault – sometimes perpetrated by members of crew – occasionally hit the headlines and a certain level of petty crime is inevitable in a floating community the size of a small town.
Offences can range from assault and drunken brawls to passengers making accusations that a missing item of jewellery may have been stolen by a light-fingered cabin attendant.
Just as on land, alcohol is often a factor in the assault cases, sometimes fuelled by over-indulgence of the all-inclusive drinks deals offered on many ships.
A P&O Christmas voyage in the Caribbean a few years ago was dubbed the “chavs’ cruise” when some passengers who bought last-minute cancellations at a fraction of the full fare made life unpleasant for their fellow guests.
A Christmas tree was set on fire, a brawl broke out between two warring familie, and the captain was booed as he counted down the seconds to midnight on New Year’s Eve. Two passengers were locked in the ship’s brig for a night and were later put ashore to make their own way home.
Violence can spread to the unlikeliest of places, as I discovered during a sedate Saga cruise – limited to the over-50s and with the average passenger age considerably higher than that.
Two male passengers came to blows in a heated discussion about the wife of one of them. One was injured and his assailant – the aggrieved husband – was put ashore in Jamaica. Surprisingly, his wife remained on board for the ship’s return to the UK.
Nobody was seriously hurt in either of these incidents, but what if they had been? What laws would apply to prosecuting the aggressor and protecting the injured parties?
In open waters, the law that applies on board is that of the ship’s flag state – the country whose name is emblazoned on the stern. In many cases, that will be somewhere like the Bahamas, Bermuda, Malta, or Panama. It would be the police from that country who would be required to investigate.
Different rules apply if the ship is in port at the time, or sailing in territorial waters, when the local authorities have power to intervene.
All ships have their own security teams, whose jobs are to maintain order as well as to protect passengers and crew from any potential threat from outside. UK-based operators such as P&O Cruises and Fred Olsen employ mostly former military policemen and there is a high proportion of Gurkhas in their teams.
On modern cruise ships, every square foot of public space – on the open decks, in the bars, restaurants and recreation areas – is monitored by CCTV security cameras.
Some are there to watch for passengers going overboard – an occurrence that is invariably a conscious and deliberate choice; very rarely an accident, and almost never as a result of being pushed. They also keep an eye on misbehaviour, theft, damage, and assaults – and are invaluable when evidence is required.
Of course they don’t look into changing rooms, cabins or bathrooms.
As far as legal protection is concerned, the majority of cruise companies are headquartered in the US and covered by the 2010 Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act which requires ships to report crimes and to maintain expected standards of video surveillance.
A cross-party group of legislators from the Senate and the House of Representatives is seeking to introduce a further Cruise Passenger Protection Act.
But their proposals can only be undermined by unsupportable claims from Democrat Senator Richard Blumenthal, who said: “With few emergency services and no law enforcement, [cruise] vessels are more Wild West than Atlantis.”
The Bill’s proposals on security, safety, the reporting of crime and provision of medical facilities for passengers taken ill are already exceeded, said a spokesperson for the Cruise Lines International Association.
After all, short of booking a break in a private clinic somewhere exotic, it’s difficult to think of any other holiday option that comes with its own hospital plus doctors and nurses on the premises.
Am I insured for crime on board?
Leading UK operator P&O Cruises says it has a zero tolerance policy for crime on board. Passengers are advised to report any event immediately to the ship’s personnel “so appropriate action may be taken to ensure the safety and security of all on board.”
The company reports all missing persons and serious criminal incidents such as sexual assault or bodily injury to the “appropriate law enforcement agencies.”
Holidaymakers should, of course, take out travel insurance to cover potential accidents and loss of property. The advice website gocompare.com cautions that many standard policies do not cover all the eventualities specific to cruises.
It says only a third of single-trip policies and 37 per cent of annual policies provide cover for cruises as standard.
Spokesman Alex Edwards said: “Cruises are like lots of holidays all rolled into one,” adding that passengers need to ensure all destinations are covered “even if you’re leaving the ship for only a few hours.”
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Source: The Telegraph